FIH Hockey Pro League table: Belgium Red Lions move to top of world rankings

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Switzerland (Press Release): There was a new name at the top of the men’s FIH World Rankings after the day’s action in Sydney, Australia as Belgium men overtook the Kookaburras as the number one team in the world. A winning performance in the shoot-out gave the Red Lions a bonus point after they drew 2-2 in a thrilling match.

Later in the day, a 5-1 victory for Germany men against Spain means Germany currently top the FIH Hockey Pro League table by virtue of their goal difference.

The first match of the day was a meeting between Australia and Belgium. Australia women scored twice in the final two minutes of regular time to secure a 3-3 draw against Belgium before winning the shoot-out 4-2 to claim the bonus point at the Sydney Olympic Park.

The Hockeyroos went ahead in the second quarter thanks to Ambrosia Malone’s fine backhand strike, but goals from Louise Versavel, Charlotte Englebert and Barbara Nelen put the visiting Red Panthers 3-1 up with five minutes left to play. Remarkably, late goals from Edwina Bone and Kalindi Commerford salvaged a draw for the home favourites, with Brooke Peris, Amy Lawton, Ambrosia Malone and Jane Claxton on target as Australia claimed two points from a possible three from the contest.

“I guess it was a little inconsistent from us”, Australia’s captain Emily Chalker said after the match. “There were some really good patches of play and stuff we’ve been building towards, but obviously the first game of the year, there was a few lapse moments when we let them score and we’ll have to come out a bit stronger tomorrow.”

Belgium’s Louise Versavel, who was named Player of the Match, said: “Yes of course we are a little bit disappointed, but you have to look at the entire game and I think we played well for a big part of the game. We have to take the good things [from today] and go again tomorrow.”

The men’s meeting between Australia and Belgium also featured late drama and a shoot-out, with the Red Lions equalising in the final minutes before taking the bonus point in the one-on-ones. The result sees Belgium leap-frog Australia to take top spot in the FIH World Rankings.

An instinctive close-range volley from Thomas Briels put Belgium ahead in the 18th minute, with Australia eventually flipping the score-line on its head as Jeremy Hayward’s penalty corner and a penalty stroke from Tom Craig put the 2019 Pro League champions into a 2-1 lead. However, a late deflection from Belgium’s Felix Denayer levelled the scores at 2-2, triggering a shoot-out that the reigning world champions won 4-2 thanks to successful conversions from Florent van Aubel, Simon Gougnard, Victor Wegnez and Arthur van Doren.

“It was not easy to start in Australia, the number one in the world against the number two, but I think we put on a good game and I think the crowd saw some good actions”, said Belgium’s Nicolas de Kerpel, who was named Player of the Match. “We are really excited to play again tomorrow.”

In the second encounter between Spain and Germany men’s teams, it was the visiting side who took control early on and never really looked like buckling under pressure. Christopher Ruhr added to his two goals from the previous day to open proceedings.

Timur Oruz added another just after the hlf-time break and, although Marc Miralles gave Spain a lifeline, goals from Marco Miltkau, Lukas Windfeder and Constantin Staib were worthy reward for a dominant German performance.

Speaking after the game, Player of the Match Marco Miltkau said: “We played a great defence and a good attacking game. We played as a team, we defended as a team. And our counter attacks were very good. That was our improvement on yesterday’s performance.”

Before the game and again at half-time, Spain’s Head Coach Frederic Soyez had called for more : “Clinical finishing, more aggression and more ambition.” With the Netherlands their next opponents, these are all qualities the Spain team will need to find.

On Sunday 27th January, Australia and Belgium men and women will be back in action and then USA women will host the Netherlands in a match worth 6 points. The first match between the two sides was cancelled as a mark of respect following the tragic death of USA National Teams Manager Larry Amar. In accordance with the League’s regulations for a cancelled match, the points of this match will count double (6 points for the winning team, no point for the losing team; in case of a shoot-out, the team winning the shoot-out will get 4 points and the losing team 2 points).